The offending email asked Chinese members of Marriott’s rewards initiative to make a note of their country of origin – and the options included Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
China, which is sensitive about sovereignty issues, rules Tibet as an autonomous region while the former European colonies of Hong Kong and Macau are called Special Administrative Regions. Taiwan, meanwhile, is viewed as a breakaway province.
Although Marriott spent much of last week apologising profusely for the error, the authorities in Shanghai took a dim view and ordered the company to close down its Chinese website and app for a week to “thoroughly clear all erroneous information”.
However, according to South China Morning Post, Marriott further angered Chinese internet users after they discovered the company’s official Twitter account of its loyalty program had “liked” and shared a post by Friends of Tibet, a campaign group.
Amid signs that Chinese consumers were gearing up for a boycott of the chain, Marriott spent much of the end of last week engaged in a crisis communications exercise.
“Marriott International respects and supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. Unfortunately, twice this week, we had incidents that suggested the opposite,” announced Arne Sorenson, the company’s president and CEO, in a statement.
“Upon completion of a full investigation into how both incidents happened, we will be taking the necessary disciplinary action with respect to the individuals involved, which could include termination, changing our approval and review procedures for online content, reviewing our customer feedback channels, and enhancing training to ensure these situations don’t happen again,” he added.
In response, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang, said: “We welcome foreign companies to invest in China. At the same time, foreign companies operating in China should respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, obey China’s law and respect the national sentiment of Chinese people.”
Sourced from South China Morning Post, Marriott; additional content by WARC staff